Fade Into You

It's a little bit of a shame about Mazzy Star, in that by the time I got around to appreciating them, they hadn't played in years. For the uninitiated, Mazzy Star was largely a collaboration between Hope Sandoval, vocalist and David Roback, guitarist. Typically classified as dreampop, if such classifications matter to you, they were perhaps the most successful band of that genre, owing largely to the song this post is about, "Fade into You."

Whether you know it or not, you know this song. Maybe I am insulting your intellect by telling you that, but I couldn't tell you the number of people who don't know it by name when I ask them. It was featured in the movies Angus and Starship Troopers, and on the tv shows Alias and Gilmore Girls, among other things I am probably missing. It was a ubiquitous staple of alt-rock radio, as well.

As I said though, I was a bit young when it came out to really get into it. I sort of forgot about it altogether until I accidentally stumbled across this live version of David Bazan (playing as Paperback, I believe) doing it. Since Mazzy Star predate the era of readily available mp3 by quite a bit, I can't even post an mp3 of the original version. Here is a YouTube, however:

Mazzy Star - Fade Into You (video)

And a live acoustic version for MTV Europe:

Mazzy Star - Fade Into You (live acoustic video)

And finally, here's an mp3 of the Bazan version, courtesy of pedro-the-lion.com (no I'm not hot-linking to their bandwidth, since it's an unofficial site).

David Bazan - Fade Into You


Palo Santo

Shearwater got awesome all of a sudden in 2006 with the release of Palo Santo. It's not that they were bad before that or anything, but sounded more like the Okkervil River side project they were (and are). On Palo Santo, it's exclusively Jon Meiburg's vocals and songwriting, and no offense to Will Sheff, but I like the former's songs better.

From that first paragraph, one might be inclined to believe that I was into Shearwater all along and heard about them before you did because I'm just that cool. Actually though, no. Those are my impressions working backward chronologically from Palo Santo. I first heard Shearwater just last year opening for Magnolia Electric Co in DC, and was thoroughly impressed. It's not that their sound is exactly 100% unique, it's just that it's really good. Meiburg's vocals are fantastic. I wish I could put "La Dame et la Licorne" up here so you could get a full grasp of his range, but that one is not and never has been available for free, so not so much.

Instead, I have two other tracks from Palo Santo. Or more accurately, the band does, as this way I don't have to upload them. The first is "White Waves," which has an almost Stones-y riff to most of it that I promise you will find memorable, even if you end up not liking the song.

Shearwater - White Waves

The second is "Seventy-four, Seventy-five", which the band's website suggests "recalls early John Cale." It's basically an enjoyable piano-based number with a very pentatonic sort of sound to it.

Shearwater - Seventy-four, Seventy-five


Sleep Station

Sleep Station are a three-piece band based mostly around the songwriting efforts of one Dave Debiak. They are on Eyeball Records (you know, the home of Murder by Death and The Tiny and former home of My Chemical Romance and Thursday), but don't hold some of those bands against them. I am not quite sure who to compare them to; the first thing that comes to mind is Matt Pond PA, although that isn't quite right. I first heard them while randomly downloading tracks by Eyeball bands after being impressed by the first Murder by Death LP.

All Sleep Station records are concept albums, which, despite being kind of pretentious, works out pretty well for them. Their first release was a Debiak-only solo record called Anhedonia, based around a fairly obscure medical condition (defined as an inability to experience pleasure), which, as far as I can tell, has been out of print for quite some time. I've never really made the attempt to find a copy, honestly, but that's my impression.

The next record, and the first I heard, was Runaway Elba-1, a concept album about a lonely engineer who builds a female cyborg companion, and the ensuing chaos as they flee his employer, who wants to reclaim their property (the she-cyborg). Yes, I know, that sounds Yoshimi-level ridiculous, but it's really got a number of lovely songs, including this gem, entitled "Frustration of Leaving."

Sleep Station - Frustration of Leaving

Their next record was 2003's Hang in There, Charlie, about a pair of astronauts who are sent into space only to discover that one of them will not be returning home. It too is a pretty great record, containing a number of extremely well-written songs, including this one:

Sleep Station - Broke Your Trust (external -- on the Eyeball Records site)

Hot on Charlie's heels came the internet-only Von Cosel EP, which used to be available here, though apparently the server is down for the time being (hopefully not permanently) and 2004's After the War, which sold better than previous efforts and also garnered the band more attention. I can't say I like it as much as their other albums, but I am in the minority on that.

Though Sleep Station still exist, Debiak's other band, the heavily 80's-influenced New London Fire, seems to have consumed most of his time for the last couple years. They aren't bad, though I have to admit, I wish he'd go back to Sleep Station. Fortunately, that seems likely this year. Despite the fact that neither the band's website nor the label's have said much in quite some time, their PureVolume site has two demo tracks from one of (apparently) two forthcoming Sleep Station projects. The second one, "Settle on Your Name," is particularly good.


It's Too Heavy for Superman to Lift

My recent purchase of a ticket to see Sam Beam of Iron and Wine play a solo show with David Bazan (ex-Pedro the Lion) at Messiah College has brought me back into listening to the former.
I first heard Iron and Wine the same way as most people, I think, unfortunately: the Garden State soundtrack. I honestly think that the cover of "Such Great Heights" featured on that soundtrack is one of the five worst songs Beam has ever recorded. I very nearly gave up on ever listening to I&W again after hearing it.

Fortunately, the strong buzz behind Woman King convinced me to download it, and I was converted. I am convinced that the studio version of "Jezebel" is one of the best-written and executed pieces of acoustic music ever written. I wanted to post that here, but unfortunately, it does not appear that it was ever officially available in mp3 format, and the live versions I have don't really do it justice.

What I do have is very nearly that good, however, and it's a three-fer, so you should be thrilled.
First up is an excellent cover of Flaming Lips "Waiting for a Superman," which, as much as I love the Lips, slays their version. It brings out the lyrical beauty of that song in a way Wayne Coyne, how shall I put this, can't. This is only available on a pretty obscure magazine sampler, so I'm pretty sure it's kosher to post (Passing Afternoon also has it)

Iron and Wine - Waiting for a Superman (Flaming Lips Cover)

Second is "He Lays in the Reins", from the Calexico collaboration of (more or less) the same name. I wasn't as impressed with the entire EP as some were, but this song is pretty undeniably great.

Iron and Wine - He Lays in the Reins

Finally, I have a live version of "The Trapeze Swinger" dating back to the In the Reins tour. The original song can be found on the soundtrack to In Good Company, of all things. This song is best live, without all the overdubs, leaving arguably the best lyric of the last twenty years bare and out front. Of these three, it's my favorite. Enjoy.

Iron and Wine - The Trapeze Swinger (Live In Washington DC 2005)


The Year that Got Away

TW Walsh released two LPs and an EP on Made in Mexico, Truckstop and My Pal God between 1999 and 2001 before joining Pedro the Lion as a full-time member. Working with David Bazan, he contributed the opening riff to "Options" and the closing riff to "Second Best," as well as the song "Start Without Me" on 2004's Achilles Heel. His departure from Pedro the Lion led Bazan to give up the Pedro the Lion moniker altogether and start recording under his own name. (The song "Fewer Broken Pieces" off Bazan's excellent 2006 Fewer Moving Parts EP is about this).

As my previous post mentioned, there was a time when I first heard Pedro the Lion when I wanted anything and everything associated with it. Walsh's records were then (and remain now) fairly hard to track down in regular record stores. Insound has Pollensongs, and Amazon has all three records, but otherwise they are pretty scarce, which is a shame, because both Pollensongs and Blue Laws are wonderful records (I can't say the same about How We Spend Our Days, although some people like it).

Anyway, back before I was able to track down much of anything (even on P2P), I found this track. Taken from the Acuarela Songs compilation for the Spanish label Acuarela, it is the demo version of a track called "The Year that Got Away," which also appears in a fleshed out full-band version on Pollensongs. Technically I am bending my own rules a little bit because this is still in print, but as far as I can tell it's import-only and either way, it's certainly out of most people's price range. This song is the most devastating, heart wrenching thing I have ever heard. An absolute must-hear.

TW Walsh - The Year that Got Away (Watercolor, 2000)

Two tracks from Blue Laws and one from Pollensongs are also available here.

As a post-script, I should note that TW Walsh gave up full time music when he left Pedro the Lion. He is currently involved in a part time project called The Soft Drugs that plays shows in the Pacific Northwest and occasionally in Walsh's native Massachusetts. After an attempt to self-release an (excellent) EP called The Soft Drugs in Moderation didn't go well, TW made the music available for free through a Creative Commons license here. Check that out as well, particularly "Defending the Paint."


All of a Sudden, I Miss Everyone

I was late to the Explosions in the Sky party. I first heard them during my sophomore year of college after being encouraged to check them out by my then-girlfriend's roommate. This was shortly before the Friday Night Lights soundtrack, but about that timeframe. The first thing I got my hands on was the excellent The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place, which is the only real competition, as far as I am concerned, with Mogwai's Happy Songs for Happy People for greatest post-rock album of all time. They have an incredible sense of dynamic and melody, and the guitar interplay is absolutely top-notch.

As you may or may not know, Explosions in the Sky have a new record coming out next month, entitled All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone, which will be accompanied by a fairly extensive tour. (I believe I will be at the Philadelphia date). They have put up the track "Welcome, Ghosts" on their official site, which is pretty impressive (see link below). The whole thing has, of course, leaked, and until someone tells me otherwise, I am going to toss another track up here as well, the damn sweet "Catastrophe and the Cure."

Explosions in the Sky - Welcome, Ghosts (on the EITS site)

Explosions in the Sky - Catastrophe and the Cure (removed, on second thought).

Because I posted that second one, I am going to remind you again to BUY THEIR ALBUMS, DAMN IT.

Not Forever, Just for Now

Like many people, I was first drawn to Uncle Tupelo through Wilco. When Yankee Hotel Foxtrot came out, I was impressed, as was the fashion of the time. (I don't consider it the timeless classic that some people appear to, but it is nonetheless a very good record). Anyway, as I looked into Jeff Tweedy's history, I found out that he had played in Uncle Tupelo with Jay Farrar (currently of Sun Volt, whose debut album I later would remember my father listening to back when I was still in middle school). I liked what I read about them and bought the Still Feel Gone reissue on a whim when it came out. By the time the opening track, Tweedy's "Gun", had ended, I was hooked.

Their best album always was and clearly remains the all-acoustic Peter Buck-produced March 16-20, 1992. The selection of traditional songs and covers is excellent, and the originals, many of the best of the band's four-album career. Unfortunately, I don't have any particularly impressive live or rare tracks from that era that aren't included on official releases, so I can't post anything from it.

The track I do have, however, does not disappoint. The song comes from the band's debut album, No Depression, which, as you might guess, spawned the title of a certain well-known alt-country publication. The band's sound was still very rough at this point, and most of the album sounds like traditional country played at punk speed and volume. There are, though, a few exceptions: namely, the aforementioned title track (a Carter Family cover), and the excellent original "Whiskey Bottle." I have a great deal of difficulty believing that anyone who has spent any significant amount of time in a "three hour away town" can't relate to its lyrics, which describe with a startling degree of accuracy the feeling of longing for something bigger and better.

The version I have attached to this post is an acoustic radio session; note, however, that it is not the same acoustic radio version that appears as a bonus track on the Legacy reissue of No Depression. Enjoy.

Uncle Tupelo - Whiskey Bottle (live acoustic)


Down in Flames

Those who know me well know that I am a big fan of a handful of oft-slandered 90's rock bands. I can think of few higher up on that list than Semisonic. Simply put, they wrote amazing pop rock songs, managed two (arguably three) hits, and then vanished from the face of the earth. I have been meaning to read Jacob Slichter (the drummer's) book about his experiences in the music business, which is entitled So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star. Supposedly it's quite good.

I also have fond memories of Semisonic as the first show I ever went to without my parents. I believe it was in 2000, during their tour supporting All About Chemistry, which was criminally underappreciated, and had some wonderful songs on it. The show was in Philadelphia's TLA, which is a good venue for bands of that size. Another weird part of that show was that Pete Yorn opened up before any of us had heard of him, and failed to impress... and then went on a few months later to have a whole string of radio hits.

This song is a favorite of mine, but it is often overlooked because it is from the album The Great Divide, which predates the band's success. Earlier in their career, they often encored with it, but by the time I got to see them, they actually refused to play it when someone requested it. If you look at the lyrics, it's not hard to see why; it's clearly a song expressing frustration toward a lack of success. An excellent one though. This is a live version that was up on their site at one point awhile back.

Semisonic - Down in Flames (live)


One Way Ticket to the Stars

Last spring, I spent a semester in Sweden studying at Uppsala University. It was perhaps the greatest single experience of my life, as it afforded me an opportunity to live in an interesting culture in a beautiful country known for great music and gorgeous women. Plus I didn't have to pay any tuition on it, so it was pretty much win/win from the outset. God bless you, University of Maryland.

Among of the more interesting things I got to experience there were the excellent live music nights put on by the Kalmar Student Nation. Just like any minimal paying gig bar night at any college bar, the results were somewhat mixed. In fact, while there were several decent bands, only one really got my attention in the three times I went. That band was The Grey Brigade, who opened for the atrocious Sci-Fi Skåne.

Their website lists among their influences Phil Spector, The Band, Roy Orbison, Spiritualized and David Bowie, and honestly, that's about right. Picture other large joyful pop bands like the Polyphonic Spree or Architecture in Helsinki... now picture them playing songs that don't suck. That is The Gray Brigade.

They played more songs than they have recorded when I went to see them, but honestly, everything on their self-released eponymous EP (available directly from them here) is worth a listen. Of all of them, this is probably my favorite. The lyrics even manage to avoid Swenglish awkwardness, unlike certain other Swedish bands, although they aren't anything special either. Anyway, check it out:

The Gray Brigade - One Way Ticket to the Stars


Pumpkins, and the Smashing Thereof

You probably don't need to be told to listen to the Smashing Pumpkins. If you were the right age in the mid-nineties and don't own Siamese Dream and/or Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, I have to question why you are even reading a music blog. Simply put, they are two of the best rock albums of (at least) the 1990s, if not all time. But that isn't what this post is about.

The recent news of a Smashing Pumpkins reunion (albeit one that only definitely includes Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlain, with D'arcy's participation highly unlikely, James Iha's fairly unlikely, and even Melissa auf der Maur a 'maybe') got me thinking about the band again. I have something of a unique perspective on them, as I got into modern rock later than many of my peers. By the time I started listening to rock radio, Mellon Collie was more or less in its death throes as far as singles were concerned.

As such, the first Pumpkins album I got to experience brand new was 1998's oft-slandered Adore. In case you've forgotten, when that album came out, people HATED it. Passionately. In some sense, it's not hard to see why -- it almost could not sound less like the band's previous output. I always liked it though, and a recent objective listen nearly a decade after its release (Christ I'm getting old) reaffirmed my belief that it failed to establish itself as a classic moreso because of absurdly high expectations and one incredibly poor single choice ("Daphne Descends," after "Perfect") than on its merits.

It's not that it's a bad song, really. In fact, if an up and coming indie band had done this in 1998, blending Depeche Mode dance-pop influences with rock, part of me thinks we would all be hailing it as a revolutionary classic. Unfortunately, the Pumpkins were already mainstream enough that the independent press had turned on them at this point, and "Daphne Descends" was otherwise too 1983 for 1998.

If it had been up to me, the first song appended to this post, "To Sheila," with its quiet simplicity and beautiful melody, would have been the third single, rather than the last, after everyone had stopped caring. Always was, and still is, one of my favorite Pumpkins songs.

The second song I've included here is "For Martha." This probably never would have cut it as a single due to its length, but it's also probably the best track on the album. The song was written for Corgan's mother, who died during the making of the record, and in my opinion, it is one of the best lyrics about coming to terms with loss ever written.

Because the official Smashing Pumpkins site effectively ceased to exist for awhile when Corgan formed Zwan (another underrated project of his that I will probably blog about another time), I have no idea what, if any, studio material was available for free download. Therefore, these two tracks are live versions from the Tower Theater show in Upper Darby PA on 7.28.1998, recorded for the now-defunct Philadelphia radio station WPLY 100.3 (Y100). I recall taping this off the radio at the time it happened and playing the tape til it was nearly worn out. Fortunately, a pre-broadcast version leaked out recently (presumably in the aftermath of Y100's demise), and that is the source of these tracks.

At one point, I considered posting more tracks from this particular show, but many of the other songs were radically rearranged in the live setting, which would sort of defeat the purpose of this post as a defense of Adore. Even "To Sheila" is more rocked out here than on the record, but it's not a huge leap from one to the other. Both tracks are also extended significantly compared to the studio versions.

Smashing Pumpkins - To Sheila (Live)

Smashing Pumpkins - For Martha (Live)

Bonus Round:

Smashing Pumpkins - Satur9 (from the internet-only free album Machina II: Friends and Enemies of Modern Music) <--- Note that this is external and you need to click through it, despite the filename.


(That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace

The first time I heard Low, I was a freshman in college. Our campus's excellent (but now defunct) Direct Connect file-sharing network and massive T3 bandwidth allowed me to check out literally hundreds of bands I had heard of but never heard. Somehow, I ended up with a copy of Pedro the Lion's Control, which pretty quickly cemented itself as one of my favorite albums of all time.

My newfound obsession with PtL led me to pick up their 2003 Christmas single, which had "The First Noel" on the A-side and a cover of Low's "Long Way Around the Sea" on the B-side. The latter struck me immediately, because it is a rare occasion that I like any rock band's original Christmas songs.

The first Low album I was able to get my hands on was 2002's underrated Trust, which opens with a song called "(That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace." The eerie synth, the quavering and reverb-soaked Neil Young-inspired guitar playing, and spartan rhythm section immediately caught my attention. Then came the vocals, which still to this day give me chills. Though neither Alan Sparhawk nor Mimi Parker is a particularly outstanding vocalist, their harmonies are easily among the most beautiful ever recorded.

Sparhawk never has been one for much lyrical depth, and the first two verses of this song to some extent indicate that. There's nothing wrong with them, exactly, and in fact, they do a pretty good job of setting the mood, but on their own, they don't say much. Then, the third verse enters, and suddenly, somehow it all makes sense:

Oh can you hear that sweet, sweet sound
I was lost but now I'm found
Sometimes there's nothing left to save
That's how you sing Amazing Grace.

That slight and simple twist is chilling, and ties the song together in a way that seems impossible after hearing the first two verses. I will never get tired of this song, as long as I live.

Low - (That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace


Over the coming months, I will be posting on this blog about the songs I love and why I love them. I hope they will mean as much to you as they do to me.